The 12-week program is part of a national initiative meant to help men be better fathers.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Growing up without a father left Girma Tadesse with a lot of questions when his own children came along.
"I was a young dad, and there were some things I felt I needed to learn," said Tadesse, 24, of New Castle, who has three children, ages 5, 2, and 6 months.
So when a caseworker at Lawrence County Social Services Inc. helping Tadesse with a job search mentioned the agency's Father's Workshop, Tadesse signed on.
He enjoyed the 12-week course so much that he went back for two more 12-week sessions to learn more and possibly impart some of his newfound wisdom to other dads.
"At 22, I thought I was doing one heck of a job. I was working, going to school and being a husband and dad. But there were some things I felt I needed to improve on, like my communication with my kids. I wanted to know how to talk to them," he said.
The Father's Workshop was started in New Castle in 1999 by Lawrence County Social Services, which is a private, nonprofit agency that receives state, federal and private funds. The workshop helps fathers understand child development, deal with anger and learn how to better communicate with their children, said Karla Snyder, the agency caseworker in charge of the program.
But it's not all lectures and worksheets.
"Interaction among the fathers in general is one of the best tools of the fatherhood program," said Tim Wilkes of New Castle, who went through the program about a year ago.
Wilkes, 45, has custody of his two oldest children, both age 15, and is working on getting custody of his two younger children, ages 9 and 10, who live in California with their mother.
"You have a lot of different people with a lot of different problems. You have alcoholism, addiction, bitter divorce and custody battles. I think as men we need to get together more and discuss those issues amongst each other," he said.
But the program isn't just for fathers in crisis, Snyder noted. It has attracted men from all situations and backgrounds, she said.
Tadesse said the diversity of those involved really helped him.
"I had old guys telling me all these different types of things. I would take these things home and try them, and some would work for me and some wouldn't. I would go back the next week and say, 'Thank you for that piece of advice,'" he said.
Meeting a need
Although there are plenty of programs to help women be better parents, there were traditionally few for men, said Bob Randall, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fatherhood Initiative, which helps fund 75 programs in the state similar to the one in New Castle.
"We are not looking to swing the pendulum to take away from the mothers. We would just like to get something in the middle to help support dads," he said.
National studies have shown that having a father present makes a big difference in a child's life, Randall said.
"When one parent is missing, a child is only getting half of what it was intended to have. Children are three times more likely to drop out of school, get involved in drugs, get arrested or commit suicide when their father is not involved," he said. "You will find that most fathers want to be good fathers but don't know how."
The Fatherhood Initiative, a national program, offers assistance and materials to guide local groups through the 12-week courses. It follows a pattern that helps fathers learn about their personalities and feelings and then goes on to dealing with children, Randall said.
Impact of absence
Don Kemerer recently became a facilitator in the Lawrence County program because he has seen the impact an absent father has on a child as the director of education services for Cray Youth and Family Services, an agency that deals with troubled youths.
"What I see when I'm working with kids is that the absence of a father has been a real detriment. That doesn't mean Mom isn't doing a good job, but it's a monumental task raising a child. I feel fathers need to step up to the plate a little more," he said.
Kemerer, the father of a 7-year-old, said while imparting his fathering wisdom as a program facilitator, he's also learning.
"What I learned is not to judge people. You can learn from everybody in the group, even the guy with long hair, earrings and tattoos," he said.
Snyder said more than 50 men have completed the program since its inception in 1999. The 12-week sessions are offered every time the agency receives interest from at least five or six men.
XFor more information on the workshop, call (724) 658-7258.